When a patient calls your practice for the first time, you have about 60 seconds to make a first impression. And although your words count, only 16% of their impression of you is based on the words you use. The other 84% involves your tone of voice and other factors.
To boost your phone skills and dazzle callers with a positive first impression, consider employing these five strategies.
1. Employ Active Listening
As hard as it can sometimes be to let a caller reveal more information than you need, making a good first impression means giving the speaker time and space to share what they need. When they’ve finished, express appreciation for sharing it and use a caring, non-judgmental tone. This builds trust and encourages dialogue.
You can then paraphrase back to them what they told you, and tell them what you intend to do as follow through.
Example: Suppose a new patient calls to make an appointment, but rather than just telling you they need to see the doctor for a wound that won’t heal, they spend five minutes telling you how they tried to see a doctor before, but their son wouldn’t pick them up in time for the appointments because his wife needed a ride somewhere else, along with details about how the wife never lets the son spend time with family.
When the patient is done talking, you might respond, “I understand you’ve been trying for quite some time to get this wound looked at to find out why it won’t heal. I’m sure you’re in a lot of discomfort, so let me see what I can do to get you in soon…”
2. Ask Appropriate Questions
Asking the patient questions doesn’t just help you get appointments made—it also builds trust and encourages dialogue. If the patient wants to talk about a nagging shoulder pain, get more details to help you set them up for the right amount of time with the doctor, which also helps them understand that you’re interested in their situation.
Example: You might ask, “How long has your shoulder been bothering you? Is it the right or the left shoulder? Do you remember if any sudden move or injury caused the initial pain?”
It’s a good idea to ask these types of questions before you start asking the patient details about their insurance, phone numbers, and addresses. The patient will feel you care primarily about who they are and what they’re experiencing rather than coming away with the impression that they’re just an insurance ID number to you.
3. Don’t Speak Too Slowly or Quickly
If you speak very slowly, you may sound insincere, but if you speak too quickly, it may convey you’re in a hurry to get the patient off the phone. Instead, speak in the normal cadence that you would with a friend.
Of course, you may need to adjust your cadence if the patient needs it. If they tell you they’re in a hurry, then you can speed up, or if they say their English is limited so they prefer you speak more slowly, then you should do so to help them better understand you.
4. Don’t Use Jargon or Medical Terms
You may be accustomed to using medical jargon, coding terms and high-level anatomical explanations with your colleagues, but avoid doing that with patients. If a patient calls for a lab test, use the term “lab test” back to them, rather than saying, “You’re confirmed for a visit with your phlebotomy tech.”
Or, if a Medicare patient calls asking for a physical, you might say “Medicare doesn’t cover physicals, but we can schedule you for an Annual Wellness Visit, which is different in these ways…” and then explain the differences in plain English. This is more helpful than saying, “If we report the code for a preventive medicine exam, Medicare will deny it.”
5. Apologize for Any Errors or Delays
If you take a long time to answer or the patient has to sit on hold for any length of time, apologize for the delay and let them know you value their time. The same is true if you make an error while talking to them, such as getting their name wrong. You want them to leave with the impression that you own up to mistakes and that you consider their time to be of the utmost importance.
Want more tips on perfecting your phone skills? Check out the online training session, Front Desk: First Rate Phone Etiquette Skills for Your Practice, presented by Tracy Bird, FACMPE, CPC, CPMA, CEMC, CPC-I. During the 60-minute training, you’ll find out how to perfect your patient phone calls to keep patients happy and coming back to your practice.
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